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Mere’s Grammar Corner—Inquire vs enquire
Written by Meredith Forrester — 4th June 2015

mere

Dear Mere,
I’d like to … ask … what the difference between enquire and inquire … is.
Yours faithfully,
Sepp Blatter

Never fear, Sepp. These are two spellings of the same verb! According to the Macquarie, this verb means ‘to seek information by questioning’—or, according to us laypeople, ‘to ask’. When joined with the conjunction into and used as a phrase, it also means ‘to undertake a process, often a formal one, to establish the facts about’. This second definition is handy to know because it helps us make an optional subtle distinction between the two spellings. Intrigued? Read on.

mere_dictionary

The quick answer is you can use either spelling—neither is incorrect. Bye! Stay warm!

The long answer is there are subtle usage differences in certain situations, and it also means we need to look at the corresponding noun to both spellings: enquiry and inquiry. As with a lot of style and spelling choices, this issue can come down to where you live. In American English, inquire and inquiry are most common. Enquire and enquiry are still used, but be aware that many Americans will think you’ve made a mistake. In British English (including Australian English), both the i and the e spellings are used, with enquire and enquiry slightly more common. Why? Well, it turns out that many British English speakers choose to make that nuanced distinction I mentioned earlier: they’ll use inquire and inquiry for a formal investigation into something, and enquire and enquiry for the general sense of asking a question.

I enquired about Sepp’s part in the FIFA corruption scandal.
The first enquiry of the day was, as usual, about my so-called corrupt presidency.
‘We will inquire into the obviously rampant corruption,’ said the FBI.
Sepp asked when the inquiry would be completed.

I personally like employing this distinction, but if I were writing for an audience of American ornithologists, I’d stick with inquire and inquiry. Choose the most geographically appropriate spelling for your audience, and be consistent.

Interestingly, the Guardian (a British newspaper) uses inquiry in all instances. This is a great example of the influence American English spellings have on the evolving global language.

If you’d like to learn more about punctuation and grammar, enrol in our Stop. Grammar Time. course.